Our activities, or so it would seem, are unusual enough;
that is, they are hard to place in a predefined category
or to circumscribe in just a few words. We thus receive
more than our share of puzzled looks and interrogation.
Here are some of the questions we are frequently asked.
> How did Jean-luc go from science to communication?
> Given all the demand you get, why are you not hiring?
> Do you create PowerPoint slides for clients?
> PDF allows no further editing. Is this not a problem?
> Is your consulting limited to creating materials?
How did Jean-luc go from science to communication?
As an engineering student, Jean-luc was told by his professors
and his classmates alike that he was really good at speaking,
writing, and graphing, yet he did not know what, specifically,
was good about his presentations, documents, and displays.
Without a conceptual framework, he felt he could not improve.
In fact, he was constantly feeling insecure about his creations.
As a PhD student at Stanford, Jean-luc seized the opportunity
to take “E103 Public Speaking” and “E102 Technical Writing.”
He thus found the first elements of the conceptual framework
he was endeavoring to develop. He ended up teaching E103
for several quarters: a valuable—and enjoyable—experience.
During a postdoctoral year and a compulsory military service,
Jean-luc started engaging in training and consulting activities
on a freelance basis during nights, weekends, and days off.
These two intense years—the first of many more to come—
confirmed two points: he genuinely enjoyed these activities
and there was visibly a need (and hence a market) for them.
He needed no more to decide to make a living out of them.
Given all the demand you get, why are you not hiring?
We are indeed receiving more requests than we can accept,
but we have two reasons for not hiring additional resources.
First, our activities seem to require an unusual combination
of knowledge, skills, and attitude. Any substitute would need
a solid background in science and engineering or in finance,
excellent communication and teaching abilities, and a mastery
of several languages. Such people usually have a job already.
Second, our clients call upon us largely for “who we are”—
for our hallmark style, for the chemistry in our interactions.
Many of them told us they would not settle for anyone else.
On occasions, we do work with others who have knowledge
or skills complementary to ours. For regular speaking courses
at a given client organization, we often train internal coaches,
who can then run the practice sessions in subgroups of five.
Do you create PowerPoint slides for clients?
We indeed create slides for clients, but not with PowerPoint:
instead, we use tools we developed ourselves, which allow
a finer, more reliable control on the slides' visual structure.
We then deliver the set of slides to our clients as a PDF file.
We seldom create slides for clients out of context, however.
Slides are for getting a message across. If we are to design
effective slides, we are best involved in identifying messages,
too—and ideally in coaching speakers to use the slides well.
PDF allows no further editing. Is this not a problem?
No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone
else's draft, as H.G. Wells put it. Clients can indeed be surprised
to be promised PDF files only, not the usual “.ppt” or “.doc” files.
Changes by someone else than the “architect” of the document,
however, often endanger the stability or harmony of the whole.
We go the extra mile to ensure that the documents we construct
address the desiderata of the client satisfactorily, but we think it
better not to allow changes once we have reached this objective.
In our experience, this approach is rarely an issue for our clients
(if it is, we recommend that they do not entrust the project to us).
Is your consulting limited to creating materials?
Presentation slides, written documents, and graphical displays
are often the most tangible deliverables of our contributions,
but our consulting services are broader. We often accompany
larger initiatives, helping clients select, organize, and express
information—or, better, messages—in the most effective ways
and through the most appropriate channels. Such consulting
may involve interviewing people, facilitating decision-making,
creating (or supervising the development of) various materials,
coordinating contributions, writing scripts, coaching speakers,
all the way to helping set up rooms. We will do what is needed
to ensure that the communication initiative be most successful.