I went to the American University in Washington D.C. for film school. When I applied for colleges at the tender young age of 17, I had no idea what I wanted to do for a living for the rest of my life, but D.C. seemed like a fun place to spend a few years while considering such weighty issues.
The film school was small, and I became pretty good friends with students both older and younger than me. Together we learned to appreciate and enjoy movies like The Searchers, The Bicycle Thief and Duck Amuck, truly some of the greatest films of our time. We learned how to make movies with Super 8 film and VHS tape, and we dragged friends and classmates out with us on weekends to film our assigned projects, or to see classics like Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen. We stayed up late in editing rooms with long strips of film draped around our necks. We nervously showed the products of our hard work to our professors and classmates. We anticipated their reaction with equal amounts of dread and hope.
Certainly, some people in the class were more talented than others. I quickly realized I liked watching movies with a critical eye more than making movies, but film school was always fun and challenging. I learned a lot. I was particularly proud of the scene I re-created from On the Waterfront, and I loved being inspired by the great work of my classmates and friends. But it was Patti’s work that I always found to be most meaningful, and most inspirational.
Patti was a couple years ahead of me in college, and she was clearly very talented. Truth be told, I don’t necessarily remember the films she made (hey…it was 35 years ago!), but I always remember the quality of her films. Every shot was perfectly framed, the the film itself always looked so crisp and clear projected on the big screen. All her classmates were so impressed. She was doing something we weren’t doing. She understood something we didn’t.
What we came to learn is that, in addition to being a talented filmmaker, Patti was also diligent and professional in her approach to the work. While the rest of us hurriedly edited our projects with bare hands covered in late night fast food grease and scotch tape grime, hoping to get them done just in time to show in class the next day, Patti planned her time so that she would not be rushed.
When Patti was done editing her projects, she donned a pair of gloves and carefully cleaned every frame of her movie with an anti-static cloth. In addition to wanting to get good grades on her movies, I think Patti took this care for a few reasons.
Every project was a labor of love for Patti. Every project required the utmost care and reverence. There was no way she was going to present a movie that looked anything but the very best it could look.
Patti worked hard to get good grades, and she was going to do every single thing she could to make sure her films looked as professional as possible.
Patti respected her audience. We were much more than slacker film students to her, all with wildly unrealistic dreams of becoming the next Steven Spielberg or John Waters. If her project deserved the respect of her careful attention and diligence, then so did her audience.
What if we all took the diligence and care with our work that Patti took with her work back in film school? What if we took just a little extra time to do our work, what if we showed just that one extra bit of respect for our colleagues? What if we took just an extra step?
Create your first slide with your branding, graphic elements and font. Then, duplicate that slide for the next slide as a starting point, ensuring all elements are in the same exact spot so your viewers don’t find themselves darting their eyes trying to track the information from slide to slide.
Look for images that are sharp and easy to see on a Powerpoint slide. Click twice on an image and Powerpoint will give the image a shadow, or a tilt, or a frame. Keep the font the same, slide to slide.
Rehearse the Powerpoint. Make sure everything looks right, and that it fits in the allotted time frame. Rehearse again. Take the extra step.
In the name of all that is good and holy, when you are done typing your document, do a search and replace so all double spaces will be changed to a single space, because we no longer use double spaces.
Proofread your document at least once, making sure it represents you and your work well. Try to avoid widows and orphans (single words alone on a line at the end of a paragraph, or the last line of a paragraph on the top of the following page). Consider the grammar recommendations from Word (it usually does know best), and be consistent with your tense, your section headers and your use of italics and underlines. Check all these things. Take the extra step.
Don’t be afraid to make your spreadsheets look nice. Use color to make columns easier to read, and use bold borders to create sections of columns. Make sure your font size is consistent, and that your numbers are not cut off because your cells are not wide enough. Give thought to how your text looks at the top of each column, and make sure that line breaks don’t obfuscate the information.
We don’t usually give much thought to how our spreadsheets look, but the better they look, the easier the information is to read. The more care we take with our spreadsheets, the more respect our colleagues will know we have for them. Take the extra step.
I learned from Patti that it takes extra effort to make your work standout, but not much extra work. I learned that the respect of those you are sharing work with is important, not only because we all like to be respected for our work, but the work itself deserves the respect too. Our work is important to us, and I learned from Patti that these extra little steps will help us do better, and will help us succeed more.
So listen to Patti. Take the extra step.