Discover more from One Knight in Product newsletter
Investing in Good Ideas, why Product Management is Hard, and Prepping for that Next Big Talk
I gave a talk recently about product management not being like the books, and how that’s OK. One of my opening slides stated that “Product management is a uniquely hard job” (and I clearly can’t resist meme-ing whatever the occasion).
Why is it hard?
You’re constantly context-switching. Bouncing from technical discussions with developers to strategy discussions with leadership to go-to-market discussions with marketing and sales to user research with users and with customers. It’s exhausting.
You’re constantly adjusting your zoom level. You’re talking to these people about everything from the longest of long-term moonshot ideas to the most intricate details of the tiniest bug.
You’re having to do this constantly, often without a break, multiple times a day. It’s hard.
But! The upside is that you get to help shape the products that hopefully define your category. Embrace it!
A word from My Mentor Path
The latest LinkedIn Learning Report is out and it says that mentorship is the top Learning & Development priority for organisations in 2023. I fundamentally agree that mentorship can be transformational, which is why I helped set up My Mentor Path, a free mentoring platform that allows mentors and mentees to connect and help each other flourish. If you want in, come on over and sign up as a mentor, a mentee, or both. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions about mentoring!
New Podcast Episode: From High-Frequency Trader to Investor in Good Ideas
A while ago, I was introduced to the inestimable Pooja Parthasarathy by our mutual friend Rich Mironov. Pooja has a great career story, starting out as a high-frequency trader before moving into product management, and has a lot to say about the parallels (or lack of) between those two worlds, what she’s learned along the way, and how product leaders can work effectively with CEOs. She’s 9 months pregnant, so it was great to squeeze this in before the big day!
Check the episode out on your favourite podcast app, or here.
The job of a product person is to be an investor in good ideas
A PM's job is not to have all the answers or all the best ideas, but to be the Socratic Police Officer and ask good questions to get those around you to bring their own insight to the table for you to tie together
PS - you can check out my interview with Rich here.
Preparing for that Next Big Talk or Presentation
As mentioned at the beginning of this newsletter, I recently got invited to present about product management not being like the books. I was actually invited by GfK, a huge multinational that I worked at for 19 years earlier in my career. They were running a conference for their entire global tech and product organisation in Athens. I started the talk by heaping on the Greek mythological references, describing how much it felt like Odysseus leaving his home island of Ithaca to fight in the Trojan wars, before embarking on an incredible voyage of many challenges and discoveries and arriving home alive to tell everyone what he’d seen along the way.
This might seem a bit much, but it struck the right chord and, to be honest, it did feel quite a lot like going home. You can’t work anywhere for 19 years and not feel some bond.
Anyway, the talk went well and, afterwards, a few people asked me how I’d prepared for it. Given that product managers and product leaders are often called upon to present, either internally or externally, I thought I’d share what works for me. I’ve used this basic approach for a variety of talks and presentations!
1. Work out what you want to talk about
Why are you here? What is the message you want to get across? What do you want people to come away from the talk knowing, or at least thinking about?
Now, there are probably quite a few things you could talk about, but what must you talk about? We’re product managers, we should be able to prioritise! One way I like to break it down is:
Setting the scene
Proving that it’s true
What to do about it
You may have your own narrative structure, and that’s fine! But it’s important to start to sketch out a skeleton of that narrative.
2. Write it all out. All of it
I’m a preparer. I do this with talks. I do it with my podcast. My goal isn’t to produce a perfect document and then read it off a teleprompter, but I do want to make sure I can craft a coherent narrative from start to finish. So I write (or type) it down. All of it.
I’m not interested in my slides yet. I’m interested in writing down the conversation I’m going to have with my audience. I write colloquially. I don’t care about the formatting. No one is ever seeing this document. Generally speaking, if it’s a topic I know pretty well, I can write a first draft of a 30-minute talk in a few hours. Don’t aim for perfection, and don’t worry about going long - you’re not reading this out, and editing is yet to come.
3. Read it out Loud
This step is super-important. I used to go into talks or presentations having barely practised actually talking or presenting. The clue is in the name!
I like to read my draft out loud, with a stopwatch, to start to see how it flows. Are there words or phrases that sound clumsy? Do I struggle to sound coherent around certain points? When I’m reading it back, do I spot things that I missed? Does an entire section sound kind of dumb? There’s nothing like hearing it out loud to point out all the flaws. I make frequent edits at this point.
I’m not worried about perfection or memorising it. I just want to hear that it makes sense. Some people like to record themselves or get a friend to watch. I don’t do that, but whatever works for you.
4. Start your Slides
Once I’ve gone through it a few times and hammered it into decent shape, I like to start my slides. I’m a big believer in “less is more” when it comes to slides. We’ve all sat through ridiculous 45-minute presentations with 10 bullet points per slide, in tiny fonts, laden with animations.
You’re asking people to listen to you whilst reading your slides (or listening to you actually reading your slides, which is worse in most ways). Your slides should be there as a hammer to drive home points, not as a script to read out. I like to use pictures and short phrases that I can talk over. If I can make the audience laugh (or at least smile) then that’s a good thing.
I’m not putting any notes into the slides yet - because the slide deck itself is still a work in progress. I will practice the slides with my long-form script to make sure it all hangs together and makes sense.
5. Throw Away the Script
Once you’re happy with your slides and you’ve gone through your script a few times, it’s time to start getting rid of the script. No one wants to see you read out a document on stage! So, this is where I start to paste those sections of the script into the “presenter notes” for each slide (i.e. only visible to me). I’ll paste the whole lot in, slide by slide, long-form. I’ll then spend time distilling my notes down to key talking points. I’m aiming for a max 3 bullet points per slide. If there are key quotes or beats to hit, put them in here in caps. Do this for each slide. By the end of it, you’ve got a bullet point script that matches up against your presentation.
6. Rehearse and Go Forth!
Now, it’s time to have some run-throughs. Set up a timer, pop the slides up on your screen and start trying to present it to your partner. Or your cat. Or a pot plant. Or just the air. You’re going to have some rough run-throughs and some good ones. You’re going to forget things. You’re going to stumble. This is all OK. Update your notes if you have to. Rework things if they don’t work at all (they should by this stage, but you never know). I often find myself reciting bits of a talk whilst making a cup of coffee.
Is it possible to overdo this bit? Probably, but I’m a preparer. Once I’m on my final approach to a talk I’ll be thinking about it all the time. Don’t worry about this, just embrace it. And don’t worry if you have a bad rehearsal. In Greece, I snuck in a last-minute rehearsal as I was getting changed in my hotel room before going down. It was awful. But I knew I’d done enough preparation, and the talk was a success.
There’s so much more to talk about regarding presentation skills, stage presence, and all of that stuff. I’m not an expert, and forever a work in progress, but I’ve found a stage style that works for me. You’ll develop your own. Here are a couple of useful book recommendations for further reading on presentation skills:
Talk Like Ted - Carmine Gallo
The Presentation Coach - Graham Davies
If you enjoyed this newsletter, please share it with your friends! And please do let me know if there are any topics you’d like me to cover in a future issue.
Writing this newsletter is fun, and I love to give stuff away for free. But, if you want to buy me a coffee, you can always buy me a coffee.
Thanks for reading One Knight in Product newsletter! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.