Marketing

6 Alternatives to Bullet Points

 

First things first: bullet points are not inherently bad. They can be very useful in written documents. When used in presentations, however, they stop your presentation being as effective. (They often turn presentations into written documents) In fact, your audience engages less, remembers less, agrees less and likes you less when you use bullet points in your PowerPoint presentations. (International Journal of Business Communication, 2015)

So why take that risk?

Usually the answer to that question is one of: 1) It's what I've always done, 2) It's the easiest way thing to do, or 3) Because what else would I do?

For me, 'we've always done it this way' is not a reason to do something. 'This is the best way to do it' is a reason to do something, and sometimes that overlaps with that we've always done, but not always. 

Presentations are often huge opportunities. You have a room full of people giving you your attention (with potentially thousands more online afterwards) and you're there to talk to them about something significant. So although bullets may be easy, why not make the most of the opportunity? Why not do everything you can to not only get your message across but to get it to stick in people's minds? And finally, the 'what else is there?' issue - well, here are five alternatives to using bullets.

(Subscribers, there's LOTS of images in here, some of them stacked up as slides. It's probably going to be a lot easier to view this on the website itself rather than in an email / feedreader - here's the link.)

1) Just put fewer words on the slide

An example of using fewer words without reducing the impact

An example of using fewer words without reducing the impact

An obvious and straightforward place to start. Take away everything you don't need - if it's surplus to requirements, if you can remember to say it out-loud, or if it doesn't really matter whether you say it or not, just get rid of it!

The example here is a slide I used in a recent workshop. I could of course have listed all the ways in which marketing is changing, using bullet points to separate them. But I felt the slide would have more impact with just a single sentence written on the screen, me listing examples out loud, and a visual metaphor as the background image.

2) Cascade the key messages across multiple slides

Rather than making four or five points on one slide (and risk your audience reading ahead and getting out of sync with you the presenter), make one point per slide over four or five slides. This gives each point room to breathe, and helps with signalling to ensure your audience understands and remembers you.

If you're making several points on a theme you don't have to make new slides from scratch for each one - just do the first slide, right-click and Duplicate it, then edit the text on the duplicated version. I've used this technique in the examples below (use the arrows to switch between slides):

If you've got the most recent PowerPoint you can use the Morph transition between the slides, which works really nicely.

People worry that this method will mean a longer presentation but this isn't the case - you take the same amount of time overall, but cycle more quickly through the slides.

3) Use colour to make lists readable, rather than use bullet points

An example of using colour to differentiate chunks of text

An example of using colour to differentiate chunks of text

There are times when you need several points on a slide - for example when you're showing an audience what you'll talk about, or are summarising something, or making comparisons. In these instances neither of the first two techniques are appropriate; you need all the text on one screen. So just write it out like you normally would, but get rid of the baggage and negative associations of bullet-points by not using them - and recreate the POINT of them (making text easier to read) by using alternating colours.

In the particular example shown here, I've actually built up to what you see over three slides. The first just says has the alternating colours text list much larger and in the centre of the screen, then the second is as you see above but with the Bodleian's reply hidden, and then lastly the slide you see here.

4) Highlight key sections of your slide, one by one

I do this a lot - sometimes by building the content of the slides one animation at a time, or by changing the colour to highlight each section, one at a time. Again it means you can have all the points on screen, but you're not using bullets and you're in sync with your audience.

In the example below I've got all three points on screen but each one is highlighted yellow (picking out the yellow from elsewhere on the slide) while I talk about it - again use the arrows to move between them:

5) Turn your bullet points into something visual

An example of using icons instead of bullets

An example of using icons instead of bullets

A fifth option is to basically use bullets without people thinking 'Aargh, bullet points, death by PowerPoint here I come' etc. Use icons (for example from iconfinder.com) as bullet points - the images will help your audience learn. A basic example is shown here.

6) Combine several of the techniques above

The final example below is how I introduce the timings for my Presentation Skills training days. It does what a single slide with bullet points would do, but uses colour and visual elements over three slides to introduce the information in a more engaging way. Part of the reason I bothered doing this is the slides allow me to talk about each part of the day in turn, whilst staying in sync with my audience, AND it allows the audience to see the full day's timings in one go on the final slide of the sequence.

So there you go! Several ways to avoid bullet points. It's really worth taking a small amount of time to rewrite presentations to avoid bullets: your audience will thank you for it...

Coming up: online marketing workshops for New Zealand and Australia libraries!

I'm absolutely thrilled to say I'm working with PiCS again, this time to deliver online training. With PiCS I've previously run marketing training in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, and an emerging technologies in Auckland, and they always go all out to put on the best possible day.

If all goes to plan I'll be back in Oz in 2018 to deliver some face-to-face workshops on Presentation Skills (aimed specifically at information professionals), and in the meantime we're collaborating on three workshops online: Marketing your library (running across March, April and May), Digital Marketing and Online Tools (running in June) and Social Media: Next Steps (running across July and August).

It's all quite complicated because of running them at different times for different time-zones. Each course takes place in two sessions - 2 hours one week, then 2 hours the next week at the same time. There are New Zealand versions and Australia versions... Here are the details:

For me and Viv at PiCS trying to work out timings here has been brain-meltingly complicated, not least because in the case of the New Zealand timings I'm actually delivering them at 10pm the previous day, UK-time, for them to run at 9am Auckland time! The Australian ones are slightly more straightforward, with the training happening at 6am for me...

Anyhow, I'm really looking forward to this. All the courses are tailored for the online environment and I promise we won't be in the standard 'death by webinar' mode here: these are interactive, participatory, and hands-on workshops: you'll be DOING as well as watching and listening. It's going to be ace.

For info on the content and booking etc see the individual workshop pages linked above - for the rest of this post I'm going to use a Q&A format to explain some more about how these sessions will work.

How long are the workshops?

Each session is 2 hours long - any more than that is too much screen time in my experience. There'll be a 5 minute break in the middle, and pratical exercises throughout so it's by no means listening to me for 2 hours. Then there's a week off and a second session of 2 hours, and in between there might be some activities to explore and report back on. So in total each set of workshops will take 4 hours.

Will I be able to ask questions and interact with fellow attendees?

Yes absolutely. I use two screens, one of which has the discussion window open the whole time - so I can pick up questions as they come in rather than needing a section of the training where a moderator coordinates the questions. You can also talk to each other in the discussion. And you can message me in the session if you want to ask a non-public question.

Could I attend all three courses or is there overlap in content?

All three courses are about communciation so certain themes run through each, but none of the fundamental content is the same and none of the tasks and exercises are the same.

I came to your LIANZA marketing workshop on marketing - should I still sign up for the online version?

The workshop at LIANZA was a super-condensed version of the workshop, crammed into 1.5 hours and needing to work for 130 people! Places on these new sessions are limited to small numbers, and over more than twice the time, so the marketing one does contain a lot of material that wasn't included at LIANZA. I've also added a few new sections to the training since late 2015. However there is some overlap! So you'll hear a few things you heard previously. But I'd say there's enough new and additonal content to make it worthwhile.

I came to your Digital Marketing & Online Training full day in Auckland - should I still sign up to the online version?

I'd say 'no'. Although there's new content since the Auckland workshop, a lot of it will cover similar topics so you'll find yourself repeating exercises. Of course you're more than welcome to attend anyway! But I'd recommend attending one or both of the other two workshops (Marketing your library service, and Social Media: Next Steps) instead.

I came to your Marketing Your Library full day in Brisbane / Sydney / Melbourne - should I still sign up for the online version?

The workshop does have some new sections in since the sessions I ran in Australia but a lot of the content is similar, so I'd recommend signing up for one of the other two online workshops instead.

Can I see just the workshops listed for my time zone?

Yes you can!

Or there's more details including links to booking below:

I have more questions!

No problem, either leave them in a comment, or send me an email.

I look forward to seeing some of you online!

UX, ethnography and possibilities: for Libraries, Museums and Archives

I spoke about UX last week at a Welsh Government event in Aberystwyth, the annual Marketing Awards for the Library, Archive and Museum sector. It was a rare chance to talk to an audience not just of information professionals, and I had a great time. I'm really hoping some of the User Experience in Libraries movement now spills over into museums and archives too...

My presentation consisted of an introduction to UX, examples of 7 ethnographic techniques, a brief section of user centred design, and then several instances of UX-led changes - things people have done to tweak or change their services, based on ethnographic fieldwork. For this part thanks to Andy Priestner, Jenny Foster, Ingela Wahlgren and Carl Barrow for their examples, and it also has in it a bunch of things we've done at my own place of work. The final section consists of some next steps, for those wishing to dip a toe in the UX waters at their own institution.

I had several interesting conversations after my talk, with some people who were already doing UX (we agreed it can really energise the workplace) and some people who wanted to try it out. Two completely independent and unrelated chats with people from the museum sector were about using UX with people in difficult situations - one was around early onset dementia, and the other was about returning to work after periods of incarceration. I don't know if ethnography is already used in these settings but it sounded potentially fascinating, and an angle to this work I'd never considered.

There was also an absolutely brilliant presentation from Mari Stevens, who is Director of Marketing - Tourism and Business, at the Welsh Government (having started off in the library sector). Her slides were ace and she was a hugely impressive speaker. The scope and scale and ambition of her marketing plans for the country I found absolutely inspiring. The presentation was half in English and half in Welsh with live translation into ear pieces for those like me who needed them - the translator did a pretty amazing job too.

It was great to see the National Library of Wales, which towers over the town like, as Penny Andrews put it, a massive BOOK FORTRESS.

Huge thanks to Jane Purdie for inviting me to Wales (we've been trying to sort this out since 2015 so it was lovely to finally make it happen) and to everyone at the event for being so welcoming and asking insightful questions, and for giving me lots of ideas for good marketing practice to take away with me... And if you DO start doing UX at your institution, please get in touch to let me know how it goes!

Embedding Ethnography Part 5: Understanding Academics with UX

This is the 5th post in a series about using UX and ethnography as regular tools at the University of York. We're treating these techniques as 'business as usual' - in other words part of a selection of tools we'd call upon regularly in appropriate situations, rather than a stand-alone or siloed special project. If you're interested you can read Part 1: Long term UX, and two guest posts from our UX Interns in Part 2 and Part 4, plus my take on planning and delivering a UX-led project in Part 3.

Having focused our first two uses of UX on students - specifically postgraduates - the third time we've used it in earnest has been with the academic community.

One of the consent forms from the project

One of the consent forms from the project

The Understanding Academics Project

The project to better understand the lives and needs of our academics was an existing one in the Library: we knew we wanted to tweak our services to suit them better.  After finding the UX techniques so useful we decided to apply them here and make them the driving force behind the project. All other useful sources of info have been considered too - for example feedback to Academic Liaison Librarians, comments from the LibQual+ survey etc - but the body of the project would involve using ethnography to increase our understanding.

We've used five main ethnographic techniques at York (six if you count the feedback wall we now have near the exit of the library) but decided to limit ourselves to two of them for this project: cognitive maps, and semi-structured interviews. We aimed to meet 4 academics per Department, and ask them to draw a cognitive map of either their research process or the process for designing a new module - so unlike our previous UX projects which involved maps of physical spaces, this was literally 'mapping' the way they worked. Some interpreted this very visually, others in a more straightforward textual way. In all cases though, it proved an absolutely fascinating insight in to how things really work in academia, and provided a brilliant jumping off point for the interviews themselves.

These interviews were semi-structured rather than structured or unstructured; in other words they were based largely on the map and a natural flow of conversation rather than having any pre-set questions, but there were areas which we'd bring up at the end of they didn't come in the conversation without prompting. So for example most people in drawing the teaching-related map mentioned our reading list system, either in the map or in conversation - if after 50 minutes of chat it hadn't come up at all, we'd ask as open a question as possible to prompt some insight into their thoughts on it.

Vanya Gallimore has written a great overview of the project on the Lib-Innovation Blog, which we set up in the library to document our UX work among other things. In it she writes about the background to the project, the methods used, staffing it (in other words, who was doing the interviews) and then briefly about processing the data. It's the most popular post on our new blog and I'd recommend giving it a read.

For now I want to focus on something that post doesn't cover so much: actually doing the ethnography.

Ethnography fieldwork in practice

What is the verb for ethnography? Is it just 'doing' ethnography, or performing ethnography? Ehtnographising? Whatever it is, I hadn't done it in earnest until this project. In the two previous projects I'd been involved in setting things up, helping with the direction, interpreting the data and few other things, but we'd had interns out in the field, talking to people and asking them to draw maps etc. For Understanding Academics, it was agreed that the Academic Liaison Librarians (of which I am one) should be doing the fieldwork, for various reasons described by Vanya in her post linked above - ultimately it came down to two things: the need for a proper familiarity of the HE context and our systems in the Library in order to understand everything the academics were saying; and the sheer opportunity of talking in amazing depth with people in our departments.

One of the most common quesitons about the project is: how did you get the academics to take part? The answer is, we asked them all individually, by email. No mass emails to the whole department, but no incentives either (we've offered post-graduates cake vouchers and the like, in previous UX projects) - just an email to a person selected with care, often in conjunction with the Library Rep and / or Head of Department, explaining what we were doing, why we were doing it, and our reasons for approaching them specifically. We asked around 110 academics this way, and 97 said yes: the other 13 either didn't want to do it or couldn't make time within the duration of the project.

There was a roughly even split of research focused and teaching focused conversations (although in either case there were no limits to the conversation, so some interviews ended up mentioning both). I look after three Departments from the Library: I interviewed three academics from one, and four from each of the other two, plus I did two of the three 'warm-up' interviews.

Prep

The warm up interviews were just like the regular interviews, and their data included in the project, but they were with partners of library staff who happened to be academics... The idea was to refine our processes and see how things worked in practice, on an audience who wouldn't mind being subject to our first attempts at ethnographic fieldwork. This was really useful, and we changed things as a result - for example the message written on the top of the piece of paper assigned to draw cognitive maps on was made clearer, and we extended the time we'd set aside for each interview after the try-outs used their 60 minute slots before the conversations had reached a natural conclusion. 

For the remainder of my interviews the prep consisted of reading up on each academic on their staff profile page, printing out the various bits of paper required, and charging devices. 

Accoutrements

There were a lot of things we had to bring with us to each interview.

  • a device to audio-record the whole thing on (my phone);
  • a device to write on (ipad with keyboard, or laptop); 
  • the paper with the map explanation on; 
  • the paper with the areas to cover if they didn't arise naturally listed; 
  • two copies of the consent form - one for us to keep and one for the subject to keep
  • a set of four pens (we ask users to draw cognitive maps over a period of 6 minutes, giving them a different colour of pen every 2 minutes)

Of the above, the cognitive map, conversation topics and consent forms were all either teaching specific or research specific - largely the same but with subtly different wording in places. 

The Map

Each session began with an explanation of what we were doing here. The emails sent to invite each academic had covered some of that, but it's always good to talk it over. We discussed what the library wanted to do (change things for the better) but that we didn't have specific things in mind - we wanted to be led by the data. Then we talked about the format of the interview, the fact it would be recorded, and went through the consent forms. I particularly stressed the fact they could withdraw at any time - in other words, an academic could decide now, several months later, that they wished they hadn't been so candid, and we'd take all their data out of the study.

Finally we explained the map, the use of the different colours of pen, the fact it didn't have to be remotely artistic. None of my interviewees seemed particularly put off or phased by drawing the map. Then there was a period of silence as they drew the map (not everyone needed all six minutes; if people took longer than six minutes I didn't hurry them), after which I turned on the recorder and said 'Now if you can talk me through what you've drawn...' 

The Interview

Once the subject had described their map - with me trying not to interrupt unless I didn't understand something, but jotting down potential questions as they talked - the interview commenced. I can't recommend highly enough using either a cognitive map or another ethnographic technique such as a love/break-up letter or touchstone tour as a jumping off point for an interview. It means you instantly have context, you're in their world, and there's no shortage of meaningful ideas to talk about. 

I have to say that during the main body of the interview, I didn't actively try and think about what the project was trying to achieve, I just asked questions I was interested in. Sometimes this meant spending a long time discussing things which weren't library related at all - but that's part of what this project is all about, to understand the academic world more holistically rather than in a library-centric way. 

Some interviews came to a natural end after around 40 minutes; others I felt like we could have gone much longer but I didn't want to take up more of their time than I said I would.

Writing up

One of the changes we made after the initial interviews was to just listen and not try and write notes whilst the protagonists described their map. We didn't have time to transcribe each interview (that would mean we'd have spent more than 500 hours on the project before a single piece of analysis) but we did feel the map description was key, so we listened without writing during that bit and transcribed it fully later. We then wrote notes as we conducted the interview, using the recording to go back and fill any holes or make clear anything from our notes that didn't make sense. Sometimes during a particularly long and involved answer I'd just write go back and listen to this in my notes and stop writing until the next question. 

We blocked out time after each interview to write it up immediately while it was fresh in our minds - so in my case this was mainly going through and correcting all the mistakes from my high-speed typing, then referring to the recording where necessary, then noting down any immediate conclusions I could draw outside of the project framework - things I could learn from and change the way I worked because of. I didn't write these down as part of the notes from the interview because I didn't want to bias the analysis in any way - I just wrote ideas down elsewhere for my own use. 

Conclusions

I absolutely loved doing the fieldwork for this project. It was fantastic. I learned so much, I deepened existing relationships, and I got to know staff really well who I'd barely met before. Every time I came away from an interview I was absolutely buzzing. 

I don't think everyone enjoyed it as much as I did. Some people felt like they didn't know enough about a subject's research project to be able to ask intelligent questions about it - personally I just asked unintelligent questions until I got it - and there was the odd instance of the conversation being stilted or awkward. For me and a lot of my colleagues, though, it was eye-opening and actually really exciting. 

The question of what we do next - how we process all the data, and then act on what we learn - is covered in the following post.

For the last time, Google is not our competition in libraries...

There's a very famous Neil Gaiman quote among librarians and lovers of libraries: "Google will bring you back, you know, a hundred thousand answers. A librarian will bring you back the right one."

I found this on Jennie Stolz's Pinterest page. Click the pic to go to there.

I found this on Jennie Stolz's Pinterest page. Click the pic to go to there.

You see it on social media. You hear it used as a soothing balm at library conferences. More than one library has it printed on their floors.

There are various different versions of the quote - often people will attribute Gaiman with having said a million answers from Google, and pretty much no one puts in the 'you know'. In order that I, a librarian, could use the RIGHT quote for this article I...

Well, I Googled it. Obvs.

Because how else would I find it? I don't want to put us as libraries and librarians in competition with Google for loads of reasons, but we still do it a lot. I contributed to a SWOT analysis on libraries in LibFocus and someone put the Gaiman quote in there too:

An excerpt from a crowd-sourced LibFocus article - click the image to read the full thing

An excerpt from a crowd-sourced LibFocus article - click the image to read the full thing

The thing is, most people aren't seeking 'right answers' on Google. They just want basic or general info. Here's what SiegeMedia discovered were the top 15 searches on Google in 2015 in the US, if you exclude brands and porn (the top 5 if you don't exclude them is Gmail, Craiglists, Amazon, Yahoo [why?!] and porn).

Click the pic to read the full article on SeigeMedia

Click the pic to read the full article on SeigeMedia

How many of those have a right answer a librarian could bring back? The weather, obviously - but you'd find that out by Googling it. Perhaps a librarian could find you a more reliable dictionary, that could be a 'right' answer. What's on at the Movies, cheap flights - again we'd at least go online and search, if not specifically Google.

In the UK in 2015 according to Google itself, the top 5 searches were 1) Cilla Black, 2) Lady Colin Campbell, 3) Rugby World Cup, 4) Jeremy Clarkson and 5) Paris. Is there a right answer to 'Cilla Black'? Right answers are not what Google is for. More broadly, people aren't searching Google for things they used to come and find at libraries.

The reason the Gaiman quote includes a 'you know' is this wasn't some grand written statement, it was part of an answer to an interview question he was asked upon becoming honorary chair of National Libaries Week in 2010. The full answer, with the Google part right at the end, can be seen in this video:

What a great quote that whole thing is! Fantastic. He GETS it. This isn't some well-meaning but misguided celeb talking about how much they loved the smell of books as a child in their local library. This is someone who understands how libraries are about social inclusion. I love the full answer. I think Gaiman is brilliant. I just wish we, as a library community, hadn't quite latched onto the Google part of it so much, as the dichotomy isn't helpful.

Also, I don't personally think I can find the 'right' answer in most of the situations I find myself in, even as an academic librarian helping people are who ARE actually after very specific information. Our role is more about helping people find answers for themselves - not in all cases and branches of the profession, but in most - as a couple of people pointed out on Twitter:

Of course this dichotomy isn't somehow Gaiman's fault or exclusive to him, you see it everywhere among librarians. This tweet from Internet Librarian International encapsulates a sentence you hear a lot about libraries and competition:

(It was reflecting something the speaker had said rather than Martin's own opinion.) I find this rhetoric troubling for lots of reasons, many of which I've spoken about before but the idea of Google as competitor just won't go away...

Here are my issues with it:

  1. As discussed above, people don't now use Google for things they previously used libraries for
  2. Google doesn't do what we do. It precisely the human element of libraries that will ensure they endure
  3. If Google IS our competitor then we will lose every battle, forever
  4. Ultimately, to pit libraries against Google is to reduce libraries to their most basic function (provider of information) and indeed the one which IS most easily replaced...
  5. ... and then try and convince people not to replace us with Google by telling them Google is not any good, when in fact - for all the troubling things about Google, and there are many - it IS pretty good at bringing back info of sufficient quality that most people who are non-specialists find it to be excellent for their needs
  6. Related: no one ever won any friends by slagging off something useful (that they themselves use every day)

The fact that Google and the internet more widely has made it so easy for people to access information without needing to physically visit a library is a GOOD thing. So I'd like us all agree to stop trying to make it into us versus them, and focus more on the things we can do to cater for the needs of our users and potential users. They don't need us to find them info on Cilla Black but they DO need us for plenty else. 

Google could find 100,000 things for libraries to do next, but only our communities can find us the right one...