Part I: in which Xi regrets that business school isn’t as efficient as office economics.

It’s past time to bounce-back from my brief slump at work. Let me recount a couple things I’ve learned since my first big misstep in the white-collar world. The story’s a bit long, so I’m breaking it into two parts, here’s the second bit.

Some weeks ago I wrote about an assignment completely entrusted to me at work, which, if I may say, I went about most enthusiastically. I poured myself into the research, summing everything up with a beautiful PowerPoint tied together with supplements explaining the expenses and research. The visuals alone in the PowerPoint would’ve had my business communications professor nodding at its design (–but not smiling; he doesn’t do the smile thing).

This book will save my career, if only I could get its concepts right instinctively.

But no matter how many business courses you take, you’ll never be taught that presentation is not always valued. And while an entire week is standard in college to make a quality presentation, there’s no way any sane employer will allow a paid intern to waste hours embedding Excel charts into PowerPoint slides.

Save those fancy PP tricks for the business plan competition, honey, and save yourself the disappointment of knowing your boss scrolled through half the slides on his phone in 60 seconds, and ignored the supplements completely.

Maybe the point of college is to make you able to work under constrictive time constraints, so that when you are given free run, you won’t do what I did and spend far too much time on research, and neglect the crucial content in favor of pretty polishing.

When to Prioritize Design

  • If you can finish the design of the presentation in 30 minutes;
  • If you can significantly improve the presentation through its design;
  • If no data is lost in order to emphasize design;

Then go for it. If you answer ‘no’ to any of the questions above, hold your artistic streak for another time, and another audience.

When your work is brushed off (because it is inevitable at some point in your career), don’t take it personally. This sounds harsh, but I had to keep saying after the day I submitted my proposal just to sleep at night.

The truth is, if you aspire to work for a firm, then expect to be surrounded by busy people with little patience for artistic design.

Wasp on Flower
Perhaps art can be a product of the busy, but those of you wanting to tack a bow on your proposals, use your judgment.

Getting the “Right” Response for Your Proposal

  • Identify the purpose for the presentation. Why do you need to make this presentation? What is your crux issue? Who is your audience? Consider structuring your proposal as two parts: a summary slideshow, and supplemental documents to present if your audience responds well to the first part.
  • Highlight information essential to solving the crux. You’ll find that if you do your research thoroughly enough, everything will naturally fall into categories, which you can use as your main points. Try to limit your solution to 3-5 categories, making choosing an answer quicker.
  • Patterns in the slides, details in the documents. As with separating signal from noise, take any number breakdowns and move them into supplement material. Arrange any data left in the slides into charts or graphs that clearly and simply summarize the analysis.
  • Find an appropriate time and place for your presentation. You might be tempted to shoot off your presentation in an email, but try to present to your audience in person and be available to answer questions. And better still to catch them when they’re not busy, so they aren’t focused on trying to deal with you quickly and return to their previous task.

It’s all a delicate game of clean and thorough, and unfortunately my project was more clean and incomplete.

For the next part of the story and notes on what to do when you’ve screwed up at work, click here.

“Wasp on Flower” courtesy of phanlop88 /


4 thoughts on “Why You Shouldn’t Try Too Hard to Impress Your Boss

    1. Thanks for visiting my blog! That’s definitely good advice. In retrospect, my boss would’ve appreciated that more.

      I’m probably the last advocate for Microsoft templates, but that’s probably why we have them! So that business students don’t make a fool of themselves trying to recreate course final presentations for the office.


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