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Communications and Presentations Authority tells all ...
Interview by Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P.

 

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, ISP, has an exclusive interview with the internationally regarded, highly respected best-selling author and freelance journalist, Patrice-Anne Rutledge.

 

Patrice has more than 20 book credits with translations into eight languages. In addition, she produced scores of articles appearing in major international publications and she developed the monthly columns, “Global Business Today,” and “eCommunicate.” Her writings cover a variety of topics including computing, technology, business, travel, food and the environment.

 

Patrice is a specialist in every aspect of global and corporate communications, most recently managing a global communications department for one of the world’s largest software companies.

 

Discussion:

 

Q: Patrice, we thank you for taking the time to do this interview.

 

A: Thank you for asking me to participate, Stephen.

 

Q: You graduated from the University of California with a degree in French Linguistics and you speak six languages. How did you get into technology? Can you detail your major challenges, their solutions and significant milestones in your career?

 

A: Although I was interested in computers at school, I never really considered a career in technology. My initial career interests were in the areas of writing, teaching, and foreign languages. But when I accepted a communications position at a global technology company, my career began to evolve. I had several good mentors who helped me learn more about technology – programming, networking, e-commerce, and so forth. From that point, I became known for my unique blend of communication and technical skills. There were few people who could write well, understand technology, and work effectively in an international environment and that skill set helped me develop a specialized career niche.

 

Q: How do language skills lead to international business success?

 

A: I think that many people underestimate the importance of really understanding their customers’ language and culture. You need to be able to understand your audience and their needs in order to market successfully to them. In many countries, business is based on one-on-one relationships and being able to conduct this relationship in your customers’ own language can be rewarding both personally and professionally. Even a small amount of language knowledge can generate positive results. There are a multitude of options available for language-learning including CDs, DVDs, and e-learning as well as the more traditional classroom language training. Try it – it’s fun!

 

Q: Please share you top strategies for launching a successful e-commerce site.

 

A: In spite of the dot-com demise, having a successful e-commerce presence is essential in many industries in order to maintain a competitive advantage. Done right, an e-commerce site can generate additional revenue as well as enhance brand name awareness and recognition for your company. First, you should synchronize your strategies to ensure that your e-commerce operation complements your brick-and-mortar business rather than competes with it. Content is important too, including issues such as personalization, community, and providing true value to your customers. Also ensure that the technical aspects of your site are sound and spend time on developing a solid security and privacy policy. Learning from others’ mistakes can help you as well. Check out the competition and see what they’re doing right – and wrong.

 

Q: What comments can you provide on web personalization?

 

A: Web personalization is a hot topic and one that’s generating a lot of interest in today’s competitive e-commerce market. It’s becoming increasingly critical for e-commerce sites to build relationships with their customers in order to develop repeat business. To successfully develop an e-commerce site that uses personalization to generate customer loyalty, you need to approach the topic from several angles. First, understand that your customers really do want a personalized experience as long as it isn’t intrusive. Remembering who they are as well as their order history, account information, and interests can create a positive experience. Forcing them to register to even view your merchandise or bombarding them with unsolicited offers will drive them to your competitors. Second, offering valuable content and a sense of community will make your site sticky. If you sell camping gear and are the best resource around for information on nationwide camping destinations, you’ll develop a following that can translate into more sales. Third, be sure to take technical issues into consideration. The best design and content in the world won’t help you if your site is slow or doesn’t work properly.

 

Q: You have written on virtual trade missions—can you elaborate?

 

A: At one time I was the editor of a newsletter called Global Business Technology Report, which focused on the use of technology in international business. One of the many articles I wrote was on virtual trade missions and the ability to conduct international trade online. Many people involved in international business have no idea how vast a tool the Internet really is. It offers a lot more than just trade lead databases and market research. For example, you can get free export training online, watch live international news and conference broadcasts, and yes, even attend a virtual trade mission. This article, as well as articles related to the three previous questions you asked, is available in full on my Web site (www.patricerutledge.com).

 

Q: What ten lessons can you share with our audience from your time as manager in global communications? Do you have a few stories to tell?

 

A: I could probably take hours discussing ten different lessons, so how about my favorite lesson?  As I mentioned before, I think that the role of culture and language in determining international business success is probably the most important lesson I could share with anyone. Several years ago, I was responsible for setting up a group of writers in Latin America to document localized software products in Spanish and Portuguese. My U.S. associate and I didn’t speak Portuguese at the time (although we did speak fluent Spanish) and our counterparts in Brazil spoke only a few words of English. In addition, the writers in Latin America (all men) were a bit puzzled as to why a young woman was in charge of the project. It could have been a recipe for disaster, particularly in Brazil, but the willingness on both sides to make efforts to communicate really paid off. We started taking Portuguese lessons; they started taking English lessons. We all learned to better understand each other’s culture and business practices, which were very different. And in the end, the project was a success.  So my advice to anyone doing business internationally is to make efforts to learn the culture and language of your target country. You don’t need to be an expert, although the more expertise you have the better. Even the smallest effort can help bridge the gap, and lead to a mutually profitable business relationship.

 

Q: What are the major pitfalls in working with PowerPoint? You must share some of your secrets…

 

A: I wouldn’t really say that PowerPoint has any major pitfalls, but one thing to think about is that there are both technical and creative aspects to working with PowerPoint -- technical meaning how to use the software itself and creative meaning how to apply design and delivery principles to your presentation. You can be an expert at knowing all the cool new features of PowerPoint and still not make a successful presentation if your slides are unattractive and your delivery is tentative or forced.

 

Q: Why write the book—Special Edition Using Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2003? Can you provide tips and highlights?

 

A: Our goal for writing Special Edition Using Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2003 was to approach PowerPoint from all the angles mentioned in your previous question. One of my co-authors on this book is a presentation skills expert who wrote an entire section that’s devoted to the delivery aspects of PowerPoint. I think this section really adds a lot of value to the book.

 

Q: You have spent considerable time becoming a recognized expert in PowerPoint. Why PowerPoint?

 

A: I didn’t really set out to become a PowerPoint expert, but rather became one over the natural course of my career. I’ve developed many, many PowerPoint presentations and learned quite a few tips and tricks along the way. From there, I started writing about PowerPoint, including three books on the topic.

 

Q: Describe the evolution of PowerPoint from 2000 to 2003. What new features were added? Why would businesses want to upgrade to 2003?

 

A: Although PowerPoint 2000 was already a stable product, it’s continued to evolve and add cool new features each release. In 2002, we saw the introduction of task panes, more slide layouts, enhanced animation, speech and handwriting recognition, and new reviewing and collaboration functionality. In 2003, Microsoft added smart tags, an updated viewer, the ability to create CDs of your PowerPoint presentations, integration with Windows Media Player, collaborative authoring functionality, and access to Word’s thesaurus, among many other enhancements. Other Office 2003 features that should be of interest include XML support, numerous enhancements to Outlook, increased security and privacy features, and information rights management (IRM) functionality.

 

Q: Which features do you like best in 2003?

 

A: Package to CD is probably the most exciting new feature, enabling you to create CDs of your PowerPoint presentations, complete with the required fonts and all linked files. It also includes the new, improved PowerPoint Viewer on the CD.

 

Q: Tell us more about those special capabilities that give PowerPoint its power but are often overlooked or rarely used.

 

A: I’d advise PowerPoint users to check out the Microsoft Producer and Presentation Broadcast add-ins, which are available as downloads from the Microsoft Web site. Many people aren’t even aware that they exist because they aren’t part of the actual product, but they can be very useful tools and best of all, they’re free. With Producer, you can add streaming media technology to traditional PowerPoint slides to create a professional, rich-media presentation. Presentation Broadcast enables you to synchronize audio and video delivery.

 

Q: Share a few real-world problems that can be easily solved with PowerPoint.

 

A: Today’s business users frequently face the challenge of needing to present to a geographically disperse workforce. Using features like live and recorded broadcasts, online meetings, and Microsoft Producer, you can successfully deliver presentations to audiences around the globe, both real-time and on-demand. 

 

Q: What’s unique about your most recent book?

 

A: Again, I feel the most unique aspect of this book is that it covers PowerPoint from multiple perspectives – how to use the software plus how to design and deliver state-of-the-art presentations. The accompanying CD is a nice addition as well, and includes a variety of useful Office add-ins. I’ve also created a companion Web site for this book that offers lots of links, tips, and resources for the PowerPoint power user (www.patricerutledge.com/powerpointpage.html).

 

Q: What other books and articles are you planning?

 

A: I’m currently working on two books not related to technology, which will be released next year. Then I’m back to technology books again. At this point, it looks like my next technology book will focus on either Flash or Photoshop.

 

Q: You choose the specifics however can you provide additional essential tips from your many articles and books?

 

A: Hmm -- that’s a difficult one. I think two of the main themes of many of my recent articles would be “get local to go global” and “personalize your customer’s experience to gain the competitive edge.”

 

Q: Where is it all going, predict the trends two and five years into the future?

 

A: Technology is constantly evolving, but I believe some of the trends we’ll continue to hear about in the next few years will be portals technology, variations on customer relationship management, and mBusiness.  

 

Q: Can you provide your list of the ten most important issues facing corporations and IT professionals today? How can these issues be resolved?

 

A: Here’s my list, in no particular order: offshoring, aligning IT with core business values, remaining effective in spite of budget and staff reductions, motivating and mentoring technology workers, dealing with increasingly complex security issues, improving quality, maintaining customer satisfaction with fewer resources, proactively recognizing and capitalizing on shifts in technology, globalization, and resolving the problems of spam and identity theft. In terms of how to resolve these complex issues, I think that could actually be a great topic for an entire book!

 

Q: Which ten resources do you find the most useful?

 

A: Since I spend so much time researching on the Internet, I’ll cover the Web resources that I use most frequently: Google (www.google.com), ProfNet (www.profnet.com), CNET (www.cnet.com), ZDNet (www.zdnet.com), CNN (www.cnn.com), Amazon.com (www.amazon.com), and Yahoo (www.yahoo.com). From a personal perspective, my favorite sites include Food Network (www.foodtv.com), the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com), and Expedia (www.expedia.com).

 

Q: Why do you do what you do?

 

A: I’ve wanted to write since I was a young child. What’s evolved over time is what I write about.

 

Q: Quite admirable, your pro bono work for children and environmental charities—please provide more details?

 

A: Using your professional skills – whatever they are – to benefit a cause that you believe in can provide a great sense of satisfaction. I first volunteered my communication skills several years ago, by offering to handle publicity and event coordination for a charity walkathon. Since then I’ve been involved with several organization and have done everything from designing Web sites to creating grant proposals to designing a fundraising cookbook. 

 

Q: Your interests are so diverse: travel, films, music, gourmet cooking, and yoga. What are the attractions?

 

A: As much as I enjoy computers, it’s great to do things in my down-time that are totally unrelated to technology. I think the time away gives me better perspective and reduces stress – my other interests are a lot of fun as well!

 

Q: If you were doing this interview, what three questions would you ask of someone in your position and what would be your answers?

 

A: Well, let me tell you about the questions that I receive most frequently from readers. The first one is: how can I get started writing computer books?  The quick answer to this is to develop experience both in writing and in technology. The main thing to remember is that writing computer books is very different from other forms of technical writing where you have a variety of subject matter experts to guide you. When you write a computer book, you are the expert and you need to be sure that you’re prepared for the commitment in both time and knowledge. Another question that I’ve been hearing a lot more lately is this: is it still worthwhile to pursue a career in technology considering the changes in the industry? My answer is that if you truly love technology and feel it’s where you belong, then go for it. On the other hand, if you’re looking at a technology -related job just because you think it might pay well or because a particular field is currently hot, then you should take some time to determine what you’re really passionate about and pursue it.

 

Q: With your remarkable career, it was truly a pleasure interviewing you. Thank you!

 

A: Thank you!


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