Build a Better Mousetrap and Presentation

This blog was originally published on Forbes as Build A Better Mousetrap And Presentation on Tuesday, June 27, 2017.

In Silicon Valley, the Eleventh Commandment is Build a Better Mousetrap. Almost every day produces another announcement about a new way to drive, work, shop, eat, play, pay, and, if Mark Zuckerberg fulfills his future vision, to read minds with “optical neuro-imaging systems.” At the heart of this quest is the need to design world class products.

Steve Vassallo understands this as well as anyone in the Valley. He led the team that designed Cisco’s iconic VoIP desk phone and, over the course of his career, his work has won over 77 patents. Steve is now a General Partner at Foundation Capital, a venture capital firm, and has generously decided to share his valuable knowledge about product—and company—design. He put it all in a new book, The Way to Design, and he’s made it available for free here.

In the book, Steve gives ample credit to his former boss and mentor, Ideo’s David Kelley, for his “Five-Step Design-Thinking Process”:

• Empathize

• Define

• Ideate

• Prototype

• Test

Although Mr. Kelley’s ideas have been around for about 15 years, they still resonate throughout the design community. Only last week, the Interaction Design Foundation, an independent nonprofit initiative, posted this succinct summary of the five steps:

• Empathising: Understanding the human needs involved.

• Defining: Re-framing and defining the problem in human-centric ways.

• Ideating: Creating many ideas in ideation sessions.

• Prototyping: Adopting a hands-on approach in prototyping.

• Testing: Developing a prototype/solution to the problem.

What struck me about the list was the uncanny parallels to designing presentations. I’ll leave it to the IDF post and to Steve’s book to provide the details of how they relate to product design and focus here on how they relate to presentations:

• Empathize. Understand the needs of your audience. Avoid the universal mistake of selling features rather than benefits. Always sell the benefits.

• Define. Define your objective, the goal of your presentation. Avoid the common open-ended ramble that makes audiences think, “What’s the point?” (More about this in my previous blog.) Get to the point! Ask for the order. Call to action.

• Ideate. Your mind, like all human minds, generates ideas randomly. Avoid the temptation to rush your slide deck to completion. Brainstorm. Be open to finding new ideas for your story.

• Prototype. Take ownership. Avoid the twin traps of delegating and group think. Seek input from the team but, ultimately, when you’re alone in front of the room, it has to be your story.

• Rehearse. Practice. Practice your presentation aloud, just as you will when you are in front of an audience. This is Verbalization. After you Verbalize, Verbalize again.

Build a better presentation and, like world class mousetraps, the world will beat a path to your doorstep.

This blog was originally published on Forbes as Build A Better Mousetrap And Presentation on Tuesday, June 27, 2017.