Explaining Southern California's economy

Presentations are the bane of business, but this isn't how to make them better

Jimmy Wales Presentation

Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales gives a presentation.

At Harvard Business Review blogs, Ron Ashkenas of Shaffer Consulting has some advice for fixing bad presentations, which he thinks are too long and boring, weighed down by data. He breaks the cure down into three simple initial steps:

So how can you get better at clearly conveying a message or helping your people develop this skill? Start with these steps to get it right:
1. When you prepare a presentation, work backwards. Start with the key message or takeaway that you want to convey. Then imagine that you had to send that message via Twitter instead of using slides, charts, documents, and discussions. Force yourself to summarize your key points in no more than 140 characters. Based on that focus, then think through what other information you'll need as backup and support.

2. Practice making your presentation without any slides or other supporting materials — and limit the time to six minutes. Think of it as a TED talk that's going be watched by millions of people on YouTube. Doing this (and getting a friend to capture it on video) will force you to be very clear about what you want to say and how to say it with conviction and zest.

3. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience and imagine how they might react to your condensed message. What questions will they ask and what concerns might they have? How will you address these, and how open will you be to alternatives? Speculating about these scenarios ahead of time will give you confidence to state your position clearly and respond to audience feedback.

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American Public Media's new streaming partner: Why Slacker Radio?

The International Consumer Electronics Show Highlights Latest Gadgets

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This morning, American Public Media — Southern California Public Radio and KPCC's parent organization — announced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas that it will partner with Slacker Radio to stream APM content through Slacker's services.

Of course, Slacker isn't the only Internet music streaming service out there. So why did APM choose it over, say, Pandora or Spotify?

Simple: Slacker enables programming. So do some other streaming services, but not in a way that would allow the APM and its programs, like the popular "Marketplace," to stand out. APM will be in good company: ABC News and ESPN are also Slacker partners.

At PCMag.com, Jeffrey L. Wilson provides a quick summary of what the various streaming radio and music services are all about. He says that Slacker is for "Tweakers" — that is allows users to customize their listening experience. Pandora, by contrast, permits much less involved modification; the whole idea is that you sit back and let the Pandora algorithm choose your music for you.

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Can 'pollinators' save companies from stagnation?

Surfing the Web at Starbucks

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Patrick Hanlon runs a branding agency called THINKTOPIA. We've traded thoughts in the past, and I think we may be soon trading some new ones regarding this post at Forbes. Patrick explains why "pollinators" — gypsy-esque workers who move from company to company, like bees, bringing tidbits of insight, innovation, and business culture with them — can drive corporate innovation.

Big companies, even ones with a background in innovation, are up against a classic problem. As they grow larger and more dominant (think: Google), they tend to tap out their ability to grow rapidly (think: Microsoft). They then fall into defensive actions to preserve what some investors call the "moat" around their competitive advantages. As the company focuses less on innovation and more on preservation, it can get "disrupted" by a more nimble rival or an upstart.

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Hostess bankruptcy: It's the trouble with Twinkies

Hostess Twinkies Celebrate 75th Anniversary

Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Four of the Twinkies that (ahem) drove Hostess Brands into a second bankruptcy since 2004.

Don't worry: the Twinkie supply won't dry up. Hostess Brands, however, is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the second time in the past decade. Last time around, it set a record for languishing in restructuring. And even though a bankruptcy double-dip is never a good thing, Hostess' investors have enough confidence in the ongoing strength of the Twinkie-and-Wonder Bread market to produce additional financing.

Hostess, like a lot of companies that have been around for a while, has both a debt and a legacy cost/union problem. Total debt is "more than $860 million," according the Wall Street Journal. The pension plan is underfunded by $2 billion and fairly complicated, to boot, covering far more than employees than actually work for Hostess. And the union contracts...well, Chapter 11 will provide the excuse to renegotiate them.

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Wall Street pays bankers more to keep them from being unemployed

Mercer 3619

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Andrew Ross Sorkin has a good column today on banker pay, which has declined as the fortunes of big Wall Street investment banks have turned south. However, he insists that we look to a more opaque metric: the compensation-to-revenue ratio.

For publicly traded banks, increased profits from rising revenue is supposed to be returned to shareholders. But as Sorkin notes, there's a battle between shareholders and employees for the pieces of that pie. When the revenue-to-compensation ratio is out of whack — well above 50 percent, for example — it indicates that employees are winning. 

This becomes especially apparent when the economy is in a bearish mood and revenues are lower. The conventional wisdom says that this is no time to cut compensation at banks. Sorkin expresses some mild skepticism at this notion:

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