‘Can you jazz it up a bit?’ AKA turd polishing…

It’s been a while since I heard this phrase, but last week someone emailed me their slides and asked that exact question, the other one i used to hear was ‘can you make it a bit whizzy?’. It must be something to do with the double ‘z’ that means otherwise intelligent thoughtful people become brain dead morons when wanting help with their slide deck.

When pressed as to what they actually mean, the usual answer is ‘you know, make it shiny, add some animations, make it cool.’ Of course, they should be asking is ‘will you help me turn this mess into something clear and coherent that will help me present a compelling story for this really important presentation.’

The job becomes twice as hard because deep down you really want to help them, but the truth is you don’t have the time to educate them at the same time. I used to take the easy way out if I ever had a client like this, and just do what they wanted. The problem was there’s no satisfaction in doing a poor job, even if the client is happy. I became so dispondent with this approach, I even printed some business cards with the the job title ‘Turd Polisher’ and bought the domain www.turdpolishing.com!!! I’m not sure if this translates too well, but had I ever handed one out I think it would have been commercial suicide.

Looking back, this was probably a bit of a turning point in my life. Due to a combination of age, experience and the need for self satisfaction, I started to challenge my clients, and more often than not, they responded. The big lesson I learned was not to try to push them too far at once. Sprinkle their otherwise dull presentations with nuggets (probably the wrong word given the image on the left!) and let them get the feedback from their peers. Funnily enough, making a great presentation is a bit like jazz, there’s some structure and basic rules, but you can have some fun and take some unexpected turns along the way. The more you do with them, the more they understand it and become comfortable with it. The irony is that some even progress so far they only actually need you for the ‘finessing’ bit at the end, but there seems to be more satisfaction in making a good presentation better than making a bad presentation pretty!

So, whenever I hear the question ‘can you jazz it up a bit?’ my answer is ‘only if you learn jazz first!’