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An Interview with Kathy Villella

Kathy Villella Kathy Villella is cofounder of PowerFrameworks and is primarily responsible for the site content. She has provided presentation development support for 20 years. Kathy supported client engagement teams and supervised and trained team support at McKinsey & Company, Inc., for nearly 15 years and has provided freelance production support to world-class firms for over 13 years. Kathy continues to maintain a freelance client base.

Geetesh: Tell us more about yourself, and what led to PowerFrameworks.

Kathy: I have always been a support person, first as an administrative assistant and then, at McKinsey, as a report production assistant and trainer/supervisor. It was at McKinsey that I learned the complexities of presenting information in a clear and persuasive manner.

I learned in two ways:

  1. Observing high-functioning McKinsey teams brilliantly frame concepts on slides, and
  2. Being encouraged to come up with conceptual layouts for the team to review – both opportunities were equally engaging. In fact, without this aspect of my job, I don’t think I would have lasted as long as I did – you can be fulfilled for only so long building pie charts and bulleted lists.

My tenure at McKinsey also provided me with an appreciation of the MECE approach to presenting information, the need for consistency and continuity within and between presentations to establish branding and make it easy for audiences to extract information, and the need to understand the presenter’s main point for each slide so that the slide’s prime real estate is utilized correctly.

I worked at McKinsey until they centralized and relocated their presentation production resources in India. I, therefore, lost my “ tools,” which were a basic set of frameworks, data-driven charts, and text tables. PowerFrameworks came about as a result of needing tools to support my freelance clientele, not finding them, and deciding to partner with a person of vision to create them. Lisa Baker, website developer and extraordinary craftsperson and artist in the higher-end production applications, took a leap of faith and, together, we brought PowerFrameworks to life.

Geetesh: Tell us more about the MECE approach.

Kathy: MECE means Mutually Exclusive, Collectively E xhaustive. It simply means that no redundancy or overlap exists and everything is covered or represented. This principle is very useful when applied to presentation slides, particularly with data-driven material. Slide content real estate (that which is not occupied by logos and template design elements) is precious and should be used thoughtfully. For example, in a column chart (columns of data on a horizontal baseline), if there are numeric values above each column, do you really need a Y axis (vertical baseline with incremental values)? No. Eliminating the Y axis is in keeping with “mutually exclusive.” Another example is units of measure: a unit of measure should always be included to identify and qualify the data being presented. Making sure that the data is fully defined is in keeping with “ collectively exhaustive.” Employing the MECE principle keeps the clutter down on the slide and elevates the understandability of the material being presented. Worth considering.

Geetesh: What sort of interaction do you have with your subscribers?

Kathy: We encourage our subscribers to contact us often and with whatever is on their minds.

The interactions so far have been in the form of requests:

  • Specific types of content: For example, the addition of the preformatted text table category sprang from a subscriber suggestion. The tables in this category are purpose-driven and convey specific concepts. They are not the vanilla, too-generic-for-real-use text tables. They are completely in keeping with the other conceptual tools in the PowerFrameworks library.
  • Examples: Subscribers appreciate that each series showcases a representative framework conveying an actual concept. A quote about Powerframeworks from Bill Jelen’s (Mr. Excel’s) soon-to-be-released book states, “The ideas alone are worth thec price.” That kicked us into gear! We’re focused on increasing the number of examples on the site, taking advantage of providing downloadable examples whenever we can, and enhancing the look of the examples (look for examples that have backgrounds provided courtesy of
  • Subscriber-defined search functionality: This was a great suggestion that we implemented immediately. The subscriber can now set search criteria so that more series are displayed on a page for brainstorming or fewer series on a page for narrower, more specific searches for particular concepts.
  • How tos, why tos, when tos: It became apparent rather quickly that it is not enough to just provide frameworks (although frameworks are the primary offering at PowerFrameworks). It is also important to help subscribers think about the right things as they format the frameworks (via tutorials for each series and FAQs) and craft their messages (philosophies and methodologies via best practices and feature articles). Developing presentation slides with purpose and skill always produces a better result.
  • Illustrator-drawn concepts: Subscribers are anteing up with ideas for new visual analogies. The success of and demand for these types visual analogies/metaphors was something that we were not really prepared for at first. But we are ramping up the production of these illustrations, so we are adding more to the library as fast as we can. They are an extension of clipart, in that the pieces are separate and in varied positions and conditions. This allows presenters to assemble, label, and animate the analogy components so they can more effectively deliver their concepts visually.

PowerFrameworks has grown into something that had not originally been envisioned. Much of this growth and shape-changing is due to subscriber interaction. They say that in business you begin building a giraffe, but end up with an elephant. We now have an elephant, but are excitedly looking forward to...

Geetesh: What sort of industry and business sectors can benefit the most from your frameworks?

Kathy: Because of my background supporting strategic management consultants (who engage in all industry sectors), we started out thinking that our primary customers were consulting firms. What quickly became apparent, however, was the diverse makeup of our growing subscribership. We have, therefore, begun to be more inclusive in how we broadcast our service availability. Concepts are universal; therefore, language is not a barrier and there are no industry constraints. PowerFrameworks has broad relevance for presenters in general.

Geetesh: Tell us more about your support infrastructure. And also who creates these frameworks?

Kathy: Lisa is in charge of PowerFrameworks site operations and developing the more complex frameworks. I am primarily responsible for site content and developing the easier frameworks. We also employ illustrators who develop the visual analogies for us. They are an impressive bunch: a teacher at CSUF/architect, a full-time freelance children’s book illustrator, a freelancing graphic artist who works full time for a regional ad agency, an illustrator for online computer games. Preliminary support requests come in via the help desk; responses and resolutions are handled either via help desk or via personal direct contact.

Our frameworks and visual analogies are classified as “primitives.” They are frameworks, without fill or embellishment. We believe that this will be PowerFrameworks’ strength. The frameworks are easily formatted within subscribers’ templates, using their own color palettes and formatting preferences – the frameworks become branded graphics that reflect their company’s style. Many of the other prefabricated design layouts out there sometimes do not blend that well with companies’ established color palettes and style choices.

Geetesh: Can you share any trivia – or maybe a funny incident, an unconventional use of your frameworks – or just anything you want to share with Indezine readers?

Kathy: I think people should embrace their jobs broadly and with enthusiasm. You never know when and where an opportunity will arise to step out of your comfort zone and bring a happy spotlight onto you and your efforts – that quick win that establishes your credibility and creativity with those around you. There is a specific incidence that made me a believer in this concept.

Being shorthanded in the office one day many years ago, I was pulled from my normal duties to cover for the assistant to the office’s managing director. This particular gentleman was fast-paced, demanding, composed under the weight of huge responsibility – and more than a little intimidating. My first interaction with him was an early morning call requesting that I find someone to put a trailer hitch on his car while he drove around the block waiting for directions. Yikes! The first auto service center I called was close by, open, had the needed part, and could handle the job immediately – pure luck and he was on his way to get his trailer hitch in less than 3 minutes and begin his vacation with his family. But from then on, I was requested to fill in for his assistant. That one incidence established my credibility with him and provided an opportunity for me to really prove myself. It taught me to seek opportunities to provide service, even if it is “not in the job description.” We seek opportunities to provide service at PowerFrameworks.

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