We survived “Death by PowerPoint”. We learned how to endure torture through hundreds of presentations that featured slide after slide of a headline with black bullets organized underneath in a row. Each bullet was followed by black words on a white background in sentence fragments. The format ruled the day so effectively that we all had stacks of presentations on our desks that made no sense. Remember, we are talking about sentence fragments, not complete thoughts. We were lulled into watching presentation after presentation by the hum of the hot projector propped up by books on conference table projecting onto a white wall. Sometimes the link between the computer and the projector worked.
One presentation followed another. The only thing different was the title page. Otherwise it was bullet point after bullet point with sentence fragments in between. Then something happened. Technology and creativity joined forces and PowerPoint presentations became better, even interesting. Some presentations now are like Hollywood productions including sound, animation, and videos. Today, when I hear PowerPoint, I no longer consider bringing other things to the presentation so that I can multi-task.
Fast forward — Death by Panel Discussion is now the rule. Go to any industry meeting, trade show, conference or gathering and the agenda will be loaded with panels. I have been to a tavern where a panel discussion was taking place. What used to be an interesting perspective by a speaker is now a dull session with panelists. You have all been to this session: The moderator starts off by saying Welcome! followed by, “We are lucky to have a distinguished set of panelists, please introduce yourself to the audience.” Forty minutes later, the panelists are still introducing themselves but the allocated time is only forty-five minutes. So we go on the next panel and start again. After sitting through three or four panels we look for alternative ways to spend time doing anything else. Anything.
It is understandable why panels are dominant. For the event organizer, panels are a way to cram lots of speakers into a short program. For the panelist, participation really doesn’t require any preparation — just show up. But what about the audience? The audience is suffering at the expense of the panels and not getting the rich content any program should render.
Now that I am a survivor of the Death by Panel Discussion syndrome, as a moderator, panelist and audience member, I have some advice to cure this malady.
- Avoid too many panels. Back-to-back panels will make attendees run to the bar. I would rather hear one good speaker than ill-prepared panelists. Two for the day is a good number.
- Too many panels have too many people. Three people and a moderator are the limit. Maybe four if it is an outstanding panel.
- PowerPoint only disrupts panel discussions. A panel sit with a PowerPoint is a dangerous person.
- The panel should be composed of people with equal rank. I don’t want to be on a panel with Richard Branson and Rupert Murdoch and no one wants to hear me if I am.
- Disagreement should rule panels. If everyone says the same thing, that is a speech, not a panel. Enemies on panels are even better.
- The moderator role is important. He or she needs to listen to what is being said and keep things going. The moderator should surprise the panelists with questions. If the discussion gets hot, keep it going.
- Panelists should speak to the audience not each other. They are the audience after all.
- All panelists should have plenty of chances to talk. The moderator should not go up and down the row asking, “What do you think?” Call on the shy person too.
It can be done. We survived death before even though PowerPoint came close. To make our work lives even better, we need some cures from Death by Panel Discussions.
Writing about pornography is a risky proposition. I don’t want to sound Puritanical nor do I want to sound cavalier about Internet usage. Individuals can and should exercise their own discretion and judgment about what is appropriate behavior given any circumstance.
However, I witnessed an incident and learned of another that made me pause to write about the forbidden subject. Recognize, too, that I have built a writing career suggesting that people should always exercise good judgment and stop doing stupid stuff. The well never runs dry.
The first incident in question happened on a shuttle bus at an airport. I was a weary traveler finally reaching my destination and catching a shuttle bus was not something I wanted to do. Nonetheless, I joined the parade to the loading area. As the bus was loading, the bus driver sat behind the steering wheel waiting nonchalantly and looking at his phone. The bus was jammed and several of us were shoved to the front, right behind the driver. As I inadvertently looked over his shoulder I couldn’t help but notice that he was looking at pornography. It was difficult to miss the action. Several other customers who caught the glimpse of the show rolled their eyes.When the bus was finally full, he turned off his phone, put the bus in gear and took off and we all wondered how distracted the driver was.
The second incident happened in a sea of cubicles late one night. A young analyst for a consulting firm was bored and needed a break. Rather than get up to a get a soda, he went to the Internet to explore the world of on-line sex. He should have gone to the vending machine area for that soda. Every organization monitors Internet usage and who visits certain sites will get a lot of attention. The analyst was terminated the next day. His claim that he was just doing “research” didn’t fly.
Yikes. How you spend time outside of work is your business. How you spend your time while at work is the business of lots of others including co-workers, customers, clients and your employer. If you need a reminder, the on-line monitoring and video cameras all around the office are a good place to start.
Employee manuals that I have seen don’t always have sections on viewing pornography. But all manuals have sections on exercising judgment and doing what is right for the customer and viewing pornography while at work is never a good thing. The sentence, “DON’T WATCH PORNOGRAPHY WHILE AT WORK” is in the white space of the employee manual in all caps.
It is not my intent to be judgmental about pornography. It is my intent to coach you into using good judgment so that you keep your job.
Setting and meeting goals is your friend. Flawless execution is your friend. Developing healthy relationships with colleagues is your friend. There are lots of friends to make at work.
Pornography is not your friend.
The following is a list of things you can complain about at work. It is not comprehensive but will cover a lot of the territory that I usually hear about. Take a slow read and ask yourself, “Have I ever complained about…
- The insensitive boss
- The long commute
- The irritating co-worker
- The food in the break room
- The slow computer network
- The health benefits
- The stress
- The customers
- The hours
- The smell of reheated burritos
- The temperature in the office
- The empty red licorice bucket
- The construction noise outside
- The distance to the parking lot
- The compensation of executives
- The work on weekends
- The people in IT
- The new crop of MBAs
- Sexual harassment training
- The workload
- The travel requirements
- The airlines
- The expense report forms
- Take your child to work day
- The lack of time for planning
- The co-workers who complain
- The uncomfortable chairs
- The people in HR
- The slow elevator
- The security people at the front desk
- The quality of the coffee
- The clueless interns
- The quality of the toilet paper in the lavatory
- The “others” who get all the attention
- The company travel policy
- The Monday staff meetings
- The performance review forms
- The lack of communications
- The office morale
- The printer always out of paper
- The people who constantly complain.
Any sound familiar? I suspect that some of the complaints can be heard on any given day in any office in the world. Guess what? No one cares much about complaints. Complaining doesn’t build relationships. Complaining creates a barrier — no one wants to talk to a constant complainer.
When it comes to job satisfaction, research shows that the friends we make and the relationships that we build improve satisfaction. It’s a no brainer, if you want to have healthy relationships at work, don’t complain.
If you are in a terrible situation at work, you have three options:
Option one: As is. For whatever the reasons might be, you need to keep the job. Stop complaining about it and look for good things.
Option two: Put a plan together to find a new job. Set a deadline and begin the process knowing that it may take a while. In the meantime, don’t complain. Your co-workers might need to be a reference.
Option three: Quit. Now there are no more reasons to complain about the job. Don’t find new ones.
Complaining is not your friend.